You might have heard that there’s no tipping culture in Japan. Although there are a few exceptions, for the most part, it’s true! Compared to many countries in the world, there are very few times when service industry employees expect a tip. In most cases, if you tried to give one, they would politely refuse it.
Tipping supposedly incentivizes good service, but Japan proves that this might not be entirely factual. In Japanese culture, it’s common practice to give patrons the utmost respect. Whether you’re chowing down fast food or staying in a five-star hotel, the staff will meet your requests and go the extra mile gratis-free.
That said, there are some instances when hospitality workers accept and appreciate tips. To help you prepare for your trip to Japan, here is when and how you should leave a tip.
If you’re from the United States, you might be well aware that restaurant workers usually earn below minimum wage, and they depend on tips to supply most of their income. In Japan, your server, chef, and mixologist all receive a salary, and would chase you down the street to return any coins you left behind.
The same thing goes for taxis, masseuses, and hairstylists. It may seem strange at first, but the safe assumption to make is that you don't need to pay a gratuity most of the time. However, there are three situations that you might want to keep in mind.
When you stay in a Western-style hotel, it isn’t necessary to tip anyone. That includes maids, bellhops, and servers in the on-site restaurants. If you stay in a traditional Japanese inn (ryokan), there are some occasions where tipping may be appropriate.
The most typical instance is if you stay in a ryokan that provides personal attendants. Your nakai-san will serve your dinner, arrange your futons, and be with you every step of the way. It’s customary to prepare an envelope with 1,000 JPY per person and to give it during check-in. Handing over a wad of crumpled bills can look a bit crass.
One of the most enchanting experiences you can have in Japan is to meet a geisha. The most intimate encounter is eating a private dinner with one. Geisha are performance artists and expert hostesses. During a dinner party, she will teach you Japanese games, dance, or play music.
The meal begins when she pours your drinks and leads a toast. At this time, you’ll present an envelope with her tip inside. Although you can decide how much you think is appropriate, most people pay around 3,000 JPY per person. When you pass it, hand it to her with both hands and a slight bow in respect.
Private guides and interpreters don’t expect tips but greatly appreciate them. Unlike nakai-san and geisha, however, there isn’t a customary amount to give. You might base your decision on how many days you’ve spent together or how much you enjoyed your time with them.
Some travelers also include a small gift with a tip, and Japanese tour guides love this! A box of snacks that represents your hometown’s local flavor is a great touch. Another way some people show their thanks is to treat their guides to a small refreshment. In any case, having a quick cup of coffee or tea together is a fantastic way to get to know your guide!